Success Tips for Re-Entering the Workforce

Published: May 07, 2009

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By Michelle Vessel
For BioSpace

For today's employees, it seems that change may be the only constant. According to the results of a survey that was recently published in the Occupational Outlook Quarterly, most workers can expect to switch jobs an average of seven to ten times over the course of their career. In other words, for most of us, when it comes to charting out our professional paths, career change is likely to be the rule, rather than the exception.

Today, growing numbers of employees are choosing non-traditional career trajectories that may include detours like opting out of full-time work for a time to raise children or care for an aging family member, or returning to college in mid-life or beyond. What’s more, the recent economic turbulence has put some workers in the unenviable position of making an unexpected career switch without the benefit of advanced planning or preparation.

The One-Track Career Path is a Thing of the Past

Whether you’re returning to the workforce after a short break or an extended absence, the bottom line is, you’re not alone. There are thousands of workers just like you who have successfully overcome the dreaded “résumé gap” and have gone on to thrive in the second, third, or even fourth acts of their professional lives. In fact, experts say that there are now more people whose professional paths have taken a varied, non-linear trajectory than those who have remain employed in the same field throughout their entire careers.

So what’s the secret to success when seeking a new position after taking some time off? According to Carol Fishman Cohen, co-author of Back on the Career Track, the key lies in your ability to address your unique challenges head-on and develop a methodical approach that highlights your strength, while downplaying the chronological breaks in your work experience. You can use these simple tips and techniques to develop your own job-search strategy or returning to the workforce after a hiatus.

Plan ahead. Not every worker who takes a hiatus has the luxury of planning their time off in advance, but if you’re lucky enough to be exiting the workforce on your own terms, try to develop an action plan for keeping your professional prospects alive. Maintain an open line of communication with your colleagues and mentors, keep up with trends and developments in the field, and attend the occasional networking event. Even a few proactive steps each year can significantly ease the difficulty of re-entry down the road.

Immerse yourself in the field. If you’re returning to the workforce after an extended absence and you haven’t had the opportunity to keep up with developments in your field, it’s time for a crash refresher course. Subscribe to industry publications, browse professional websites, sign up for a college class or two, attend conferences and lectures in your field – do everything you can to amass the knowledge, skills, and professional vocabulary that will mark you as a serious contender for top jobs.

Build (or rebuild) your network. Whether you’ve fallen out of contact with past colleagues and mentors or you’re trying to build up a network in a new field, the prospect of connecting with a new group of professionals can be daunting. Have a set of business cards printed up (or choose basic contact cards if you’re not yet comfortable claiming a title for yourself), develop a brief elevator pitch, and begin to look for industry events in your area. Experts estimate that as much as 80% of all job offers are the result of networking activity rather than the traditional job application process, so be sure to tap into this valuable resource.

Choose a non-chronological approach. If you have significant gaps in your résumé, it may be best to choose a functional format that highlights your skills and experience, rather than using the dates of your past employment as the default organizing principle. Similarly, it’s important to practice answering interview questions in such a way that your skills and strengths shine through, while downplaying your time away from the workforce.

Project confidence. Many applicants who are returning to the workforce after an absence tend to adopt an apologetic or sheepish manner in interviews. Remember that many, if not most, workers have been or will be in the same boat at some point in their careers. Create a concise account of your career and your life experiences that you’re comfortable with, and practice it until you’ve got it down pat. Often, hiring managers are more drawn to candidates who project poise, self-assurance, and confidence than those who have sterling credentials but reserved personalities.

Re-entering the workforce and finding the right role after a hiatus can be a challenging process, but developing a job-search strategy that helps you downplay your hiatus can significantly boost your chances of success. These tools can help ease the job-search jitters as you enter this exciting new phase of your career.

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